HNC Home Page
News Business Arts & Life Sports Opinion Calendar Archive About Us
PUT AWAY YOUR TOYS: Sunday brought perfect weather for hot-air ballooning over the Old Mendon Highway -- but when it's over, you still have to pack up. / Photo by Nancy Williams

Today's word on journalism

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

"Paranoia means having all the facts."

--William S. Burroughs, Beat Generation writer (1914-1997)

U.S. media don't have best coverage on war, soldier-editor says

By Kathryn Kemp

September 22, 2006 | The U.S. media aren't the best place to find good coverage of the war in Iraq, at least not according to Marshall Thompson, an Army journalist who recently returned from Iraq.

After speaking about his experiences in Iraq to students in the Taggart Student Center Tuesday afternoon, Thompson, a 2003 USU journalism graduate who returned from Iraq in August, spoke to Brenda Cooper's Media Criticism class about the media coverage of the war and explained to them why he thinks Al-Jazeera, a controversial Arabic television station, has the best war coverage.

"If you're a media outlet and everyone hates you, you're on to something!" Thompson said. The people who run Al Jazeera are good, educated people, he said. They don't necessarily support Bin Laden, but they aren't going to give in to what the U.S. wants either. So they show the truth and they show all of it.

"We considered that a beacon of free speech," said Thompson, who was editor of the Anaconda Times while in Iraq. He said the information put out by Al Jazeera is important because it shows the people and their experiences.

"How can any good be done if we don't know what they want or what they care about?" he said.

He described some of the differences between reporting by the U.S. media and media in other places, including Al-Jazeera and BBC. One example he gave is that the U.S. media constantly talks about "Al Qaida" being in Iraq, but everywhere else in the world they do not because it isn't certain if Al Qaida is really there. Instead they use terms like "Iraqi insurgents" which is more accurate.

Often the media doesn't tell the whole story. Thompson told of a time he was doing an article about an army hospital. He was speaking to an orthopedic surgeon, teasing him about being there just to treat blisters. But then the surgeon said something that really affected Thompson.

"He told me, 'What people don't know is that yes, we save a lot of lives here, but we save a lot of lives without limbs.'" There are a lot of people who walk away and will never be the same, said Thompson, and sometimes the media doesn't explain that part of the story.

There are also a lot of things that are going on in Iraq that don't get reported at all. Thompson spoke of one tragedy that wasn't heard about here. The mortar men would patrol in shifts around the base and often got bored. So they did "dry runs," practice drills to help them plan and prepare for real combat situations.

Just a few months before Thompson left Iraq, the mortar men did one of their "dry runs." But this time the soldiers didn't get the message that that's what it was, and they blew up the house they were targeting.

Thompson doesn't know how many were killed, but he does know that the story never got reported.

In fact, he said a lot of deaths don't make the news. He says a lot of people don't realize that the casualty rates, including deaths and wounded, are bigger than they were in Vietnam. It is hard to recognize because there were more numbers in Vietnam, but the rates in this war are what is higher.

And the numbers they have are only military troops. There is no official or accurate count of the number of civilian casualties.

"It's depressing, but we have no idea how many Iraqi's have been killed," he said.

Thompson did admit that often reporters themselves get a limited view of the war. Thompson was located at Camp Anaconda, about 30 miles north of Baghdad, and said most reporters stay in or near Baghdad.

"Only the dedicated or really desperate go north," he said.

He said he got to see a lot more than many soldiers and reporters in Iraq.

Because of his job and where he was located, he got to travel a lot and meet a lot of people.

"I got a better idea of: one, what the soldiers were doing and two, what it was like for civilians," he said. He would have liked to have seen the reporters move further north, but he warned that if they did, they wouldn't get nicer stories. There just aren't very many nice stories to tell.

Thompson pointed out that in the normal media, what doesn't usually happen is what is in the news. It's not the regular, everyday things that make the news. It is the exceptions, like crime and murder. In Iraq, the "exceptions" are the good stories.

So the question is, do they report the exception, or do they report the truth about what is going on? Thompson wants the truth.

He said that people should never say the media reports are too negative because it will discourage them from reporting that truth, and that is the last thing anyone should want.

Sometimes even then, at least to Thompson, the truth is still not quite clear. He said sometimes the media spends too much time giving equal coverage to an unequal conflict. That is his biggest critique of journalism today: they are trying too hard to be unbiased.

"Journalists should only serve the truth," he said. They need to call it like they see it. Right and wrong need to be made clear. And then, if someone thinks they're biased, "oh well."

With such a mindset, Thompson returned home with his own strong opinions about the war.

"Not all conflicts are equal. Some are justified, some aren't," he said. "Iraq is not justified."

To show his dedication to his fellow soldiers and his desire to end the war and bring them home, Thompson has planned a 26-day, 500-mile walk from the Utah/Idaho border to the Utah/Arizona border. He will walk one day for every 100 soldiers killed. He begins his walk on Oct. 2, hoping that at the very least his walk will raise awareness of the situation and preferably help bring the soldiers home.

On his website for the walk,, he says his job gave him a unique opportunity to see more of the war than most, and he wants to put that experience toward a cause.

He says, "I think since I've seen so much of the war in Iraq that I'm duty-bound to do what I can to make it right."


Copyright 1997-2005 Utah State University Department of Journalism & Communication, Logan UT 84322, (435) 797-1000
Best viewed 800 x 600.